Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Two nests, both works of art

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Nesting Updated: July 6, 2014 - 11:16 AM

The first three photos below show the nest of an American Goldfinch. I found it on the ground in an apple orchard after one of our mid-June windy nights. My identification is based on information from the book “Nest, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds” by Paul J. Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison (part of the Princeton University Press Field Guide series). 

 

What gives me pause as I hold the nest is the intricate construction, the careful weaving of grass and hair, the plant down that pads the nest bottom. Edges are bound with spider silk in some cases. We’re looking at the bottom, top, and one side of the nest. The bottom is wound with grasses in the same fashion as a knitter winds her ball of yarn or you a ball of string. The edges are wrapped with grass threads much as a basket weaver secures her work. The nest is described in the book at a “neat and firm compact cup.” It is springy to the touch. The female finch builds this nest by herself in four to six days.

 

I recovered a House Wren nest a couple of years ago, removing it from a PVC nest box when the birds were finished with nesting. It was constructed of a few more than 200 sticks and pieces of grass, the twigs from an inch to six inches long. It slid out of the PVC tube intact, no moving parts. Each stick and twig was placed to create a tension that held it all together. It could be handled without damage. I photographed it, then dismantled it to count its pieces.

 

Some birds build rudimentary nests, a scrape in sand, a loose bundle of sticks. Wren and goldfinch nests are far more. They are works of art.

 

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